ARMY chiefs today dismissed claims about the future of famous name battalions in York and North Yorkshire as "pure speculation".

The Green Howards, based at Richmond, and the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire, based in York, face the axe under radical reforms, according to national newspaper reports.

The two regiments, along with the remaining 17 single-battalion regiments, are to be amalgamated into multi-battalion regional regiments in the biggest structural change since the 1870s, the reports state.

Any such move would be expected to cause outrage among supporters of the affected regiments, which also include the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, in Halifax, and The Black Watch, in Perth.

General Sir Michael Jackson, Chief of General Staff, is reported to be championing the reforms, which are expected to maximise the retention of soldiers and improve efficiency.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, is said to have put pressure on his previous two Chiefs of Staff to make similar changes, but has been rebuffed because of the effect on the regimental system.

An Army spokesman said today that a statement concerning "future Army structures" was due next week, and today's reports were "pure speculation". She declined to comment further.

There are eight multi-battalion regiments, the results of previous widespread amalgamations. Only 19 famous names, most of them already merged, survive.

The 19 single-battalion regiments are expected to be merged into seven regiments of two or three battalions, giving the Army a total of 15 multi-battalion regiments.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is set to make a Commons statement in the middle of next week.

The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire was formed in 1958 by the amalgamation of The West Yorkshire Regiment and the East Yorkshire Regiment.

The Green Howards was raised in 1688 for service under William of Orange, although it was not formally named until 1920.

Updated: 10:21 Friday, July 16, 2004